The Great Wall of China

Text and photos by Daniel Hughes

Many say you can see the Great Wall of China from space, now that might be true if all the sections of the wall zig-zagged in tight formation, as unbelievably there are over 21,000km of the wall. The reality is that even if you know where to look when flying overhead in an airliner, it’s still very difficult to spot. But four years ago, I did, and a dream to ride on it started.

Up until now, I’ve been using my Moonlight Bright as Day 3000 (handlebar and primary light) and Bright as Day 1300 (helmet and secondary) on road and gravel. Cycling some of the world’s most famous cycling climbs and venturing into the Welsh countryside. The experiences have opened up my world to a new level of sensory awareness and experience. I could only dream of what it would be like to ride at night on one of mankind’s greatest achievements.

I’m in Beijing and meet the team who are helping to facilitate this adventure. As you can imagine you can’t just rock up to the part where hundreds of thousands of tourists visit each year. We needed to find a section which is away from the norm, away from the masses and a part which is physically possible too. Many sections as you’ll see are either in total disrepair or scaling near vertical mountains.

After driving for nearly three hours we get to a small hamlet and a trailhead. It started well with it being rideable but quickly turned into steps. Call this a warm-up, and I’m determined to get onto the wall before sunset. To be able to compare the experience of riding during the day and the night.

Holy! Nothing can compare you to this view. I’ve seen the pictures and read the stats but to stand here on the Great Wall of China is not only incredibly special, but the views are every bit as epic as I imagined them to be. The wall climbs up and over mountains for as far as my eyes can see.

I start riding with the sun behind me, and my mission is to get up to a ridge line far from the horizon. This will be a solid workout, as the wall is unkept and sections are steep. But that is part of the charm and it isn’t warm so keeping the body moving and the effort levels up playing in my favour.

I make it to the ridge just as the sun disappears behind the mountains behind me, they call this blue hour. A time when it’s still light, but with blue hues. Perfect time to get some photos of my bike and to enjoy the last of the views. Getting up here has exposed at least another 50km of wall for me to see.

Lights on full power (mind-blowing how bright they are) it’s time to do some pretty technical mountain biking in the dark. The margin for error? Not much! On either side of the wall, there is a substantial drop. I’ve seen no one since I’ve been here too.

Like climbing mountains, so much easier going up than down… I try to let the bike run as much as I can, but some sections are incredibly steep and I’m just waiting to go over the handlebars (luckily I didn’t).

The top section from the ridge is done, and I’m now on an insanely fun rollercoaster. Ride a km or so and then ride through one of the 25,000 watch towers. The lights cast eery shadows as I ride through and you can hear a pin drop. No wind, no background noise, just silence.

This ride wasn’t about trying to ride the entire wall, as that just isn’t possible. I don’t even know if it’s possible to ride 100km continuously due to disrepair and the fact that the wall was built on high points so they could see the enemy/protect their territories. But I do know that the few hours I spent up there was the most magical riding I’ve ever experienced, and my senses heightened to a whole new level thanks to my Moonlight lights.